Peonies – Great Plants for Northern Gardens

Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Peonies

Many gardeners look forward to November, a time when the northern garden is mostly put to bed and you can relax with a cup of tea and a sense of satisfaction about the season just finished. It’s also a time when your garden from the previous year is fresh in your mind and you can think about which plants you want to grow next year.

Over and over, we hear gardeners say they want reliable plants that perform well in our sometimes unpredictable weather. This November, the staff of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society offers a list of 30 top-performing, super-reliable plants for the northern garden. Many are natives to our area, but not all. We’ve included some trees and shrubs, but the majority of the plants are perennials that will bring color, lush foliage and excitement to your garden.


Peonies only bloom for a few weeks, but we would not grow a northern garden without them. Why? First, their variety. Peonies come in three basic types — the herbaceous peonies, which die back each year; the tree peonies, which grow on tree-like trunks; and intersectional peonies, which are a combination of the two. Intersectional peonies will dieback in the fall, but their leaves and blooms are similar to the tree peony types.

Tree peony in bloom

All peonies develop the buds for next year’s bloom the previous fall. This happens underground with herbaceous and intersectional peonies.

In addition to their different types, peonies come in a range of colors from deep reds to white, and different flower types from sweet single peonies to the big puffballs, which are called “bomb doubles.”

Peonies need full sun, regular fertilizer or compost applications and well-drained soil. They may have problems with ants or fungal diseases, but most peonies will remain healthy and flower heavily for decades. The peony you plant next spring will almost certainly out-live you.

One last reason we think peonies are a great plant for northern gardens is their history in Minnesota. Not many people realize this, but in the 1920s, Faribault was “The Peony Capital of the World.”Fields surrounding the city were filled with peonies grown for the Brand Peony Farms, which introduced dozens of hardy peonies for Minnesota gardeners. Minnesota is still home to several well-known peony breeders.


Thanks to our friends at the Northern for this article. If you would like to read more or subscribe to the Northern Gardener click the link below:


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About Tom McKusick 30 Articles
It is the mission of MSHS to serve Northern gardeners through education, encouragement, and community. Through a variety of educational programs, classes and conferences, and by publishing an award-winning magazine, Northern Gardener, MSHS helps its members and the general public to be better gardeners in USDA plant hardy Zones 3, 4 and 5. MSHS’ plant donation network, Minnesota Green, started in 1988, serves the greening efforts of volunteer gardeners throughout the state. Minnesota Green promotes grassroots efforts to revitalize communities by coordinating the donation and distribution of nurseries and greenhouse’s flowers and trees to be planted in public spaces statewide. MSHS was formed in 1866, as an association of fruit growers who took on the challenge of growing apples and other fruits in a northern climate. Two years later, the association became the Minnesota State Horticultural Society to recognize the importance of all phases of horticulture development in rural and urban Minnesota. In 1873, the Minnesota Legislature approved an act providing for the publication and distribution of 2000 copies of all the transactions of the society. 1894 marked the birth of one of the longest continually published horticultural magazines in the country: Northern Gardener, formerly known as Minnesota Horticulturist.